Attribution

Are Third Parties Improperly Sharing Apple's IDFA? What Apple's New Click-Through Agreement Means for the Industry

Danan Margason

Apple has been making lots of headlines in recent weeks while restructuring its ad program. First, HasOffers discovered that Apple released iAd attribution with iOS 7.1, allowing advertisers direct insight into whether users interact with ads placed on iAd. Second, Apple opened up its iAd workbench to anyone with an Apple ID and reduced the minimum monthly spend to only $50, thereby making advertising with iAd far more feasible for most advertisers. Then, Apple released a new click-through agreement clarifying that advertisers can use IDFA* for attribution even if they aren’t serving ads.

Much has been written about iAd attribution and the new iAd workbench, but the seemingly boring click-through agreement may be the most interesting change. We believe it’s part of an attempt to prevent third-parties from improperly using Apple’s IDFA.

We first learned that third-party sharing was on Apple’s radar in late January, when Apple started rejecting apps that collected IDFA but that didn’t serve ads. Sources indicate this was motivated by concerns that third-parties were using IDFA data to build user profiles and share data externally.

Since then, we’ve discovered that at least one analytics company is possibly obtaining IDFA without Apple’s knowledge by disguising its IDFA retrieval code to survive the app review process. This allows the company to potentially use IDFA data for non-compliant purposes and to share the information with third-parties, all without Apple’s knowledge.

The new click-through agreement alerts the industry that Apple is taking action. The agreement helps close loopholes by setting forth explicit rules about how and when IDFA can be collected and used. If you are collecting IDFA for anything other than serving ads or attribution, then your practices unambiguously fall outside of Apple’s use guidelines.

This is a major statement from Apple. When IDFA was first released some thought it would simply replicate UDID (but with the option to “limit ad tracking”). Since then, however, Apple has added the ability to reset IDFA and is now clamping down on improper sharing with third parties.

Apple’s decision to put its foot down on improper use of IDFA is meaningful because Apple is so focused on the consumer experience. iAd remains a very small portion of Apple’s revenue and is unlikely to become a major part of Apple’s strategy. Apple has always prioritized its hardware business, and this is yet another indication that it values user privacy and customer trust over advertising dollars.

We believe increased user privacy is critical for consumer trust and industry growth, and we applaud Apple’s efforts to lead the way. At HasOffers we also take privacy extremely seriously and never share data with third parties or otherwise monetize it in any way. In particular, we don’t use our customers’ data to simultaneously run an ad network, bid, or retarget. We also work with independent parties like TRUSTe to verify our practices.

In the new era of privacy by design, companies like Apple that place consumer confidence at the forefront of their business will continue to flourish. This will strengthen the industry over time, and both consumers and advertisers will benefit. We look forward to working with Apple to help shape the best digital advertising experience possible.

 

* For those unfamiliar, IDFA (“Identifier for Advertising”) is Apple’s proprietary persistent identifier developed for performance advertising. Like older unique identifiers (e.g. MAC Address and UDID), IDFA is persistent and tied to a specific device. But unlike those older identifiers, IDFA can be reset by the end user at any time, allowing users to effectively erase their prior browsing history and start anew. It also includes an option that allows the user to limit ad tracking for behavioral advertising purposes.

Author
Danan Margason

Danan Margason is General Counsel at TUNE. He focuses on Intellectual Property, Business Transactions, Privacy, and other aspects of Internet Law. On the weekends you can find him skiing, rock climbing, or listening to music. Danan is also on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.